It's easy to be slaves of our more primitive and unconscious patterns of thinking, feeling and doing.
I spent last weekend camping with my favourite person at our favourite spot in the mountains. Our campsite sits next to a rushing creek cascading down through a twisting band of rock cliffs in the backdrop of glacial icefields. It is the most beautiful setting in what for me is the most beautiful time of year. I was out of cell reception all weekend and returned jarringly from this bliss into the ugly and horrible crisis unfolding in the Middle East.
I coach purpose-driven entrepreneurs, and I serve people with strong ties to both Israel and Palestine. Naturally, I checked in with everyone this past week to see how they were all doing. I asked questions and made comments that quickly revealed how little I really understood about the situation. I risked offending the people I care about, so I am now educating myself on the situation. I think it's wise to tread carefully and so I will contain myself to only this comment: like many conflicts between individuals, communities and nations, this one is complicated and has a long history. I am grateful however for what I learned this week about the extremes of the human condition–the good, the bad and the ugly.
I spend much of my time as a coach in the middle of conflicts and misalignments between business and life partners, members of teams and various stakeholder groups like investors, clients and employees. Over the last 26 years I've spent thousands of hours observing the interactions and conversations of people in relation to each other. It's obviously way less extreme than war, but what I think I have learned is this:
It's not just what people say and do to each other that seems to have the most impact, but the tone with which they say and do these things.
I think most of us understand that the literal component of our language and actions are just a small part of the message they ultimately convey. Tone carries the bulk of the emotional content: love, hate or indifference.
One of the concepts I've been developing this year–one of interest I think to entrepreneurs with a higher purpose–is the notion of the ethical business. This kind of enterprise places the highest value on integrity and the correspondence between thought, word and deed. I generally have a pretty elaborate understanding of the values of the people I support. When they are operating in alignment with their own values in a way that creates this value for the people they deal with, I'd describe them as having "good tone''. There is something in people with good tone that seems to attract engagement rather than force it.
It's your tone that triggers people up or down.
We have a choice in every moment to act from our baser selves or our higher aspirations. We bring more constructive energy into our relationships by being more:
It is my nature to try to make sense of what goes on around me and take from it something useful. There's not much I can practically do about many of the things going now in the world-at-large, but I can do a better job at showing up with the people in my world, by choosing to be in a more constructive place that works better for them. I am the only one I can make different.
Approaching relationships with a softer tone generally helps to dissolve the destructive emotions that swirl within conflicts and misalignments.